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Jonas Ramoth

Jonas Ramoth, originally from Selawik, Alaska, speaks on February 29, 1996 during the Communities of Memory public storytelling event held at the NANA Museum in Kotzebue, Alaska from February 29 to March 2, 1996. He talks about the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG), blackouts in the village during World War II, and the honor and challenges of serving in the ATG and the military.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2015-25-02, Part 1

Project: Kotzebue Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Feb 29, 1996
Narrator(s): Jonas Ramoth
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Memories of the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) from when he was a boy,

Becoming a member of the ATG at age fifteen

Use of lights in the village of Selawik, and experiencing blackouts

Pride in serving in the ATG and the military

Blacking out windows in preparation for airplanes flying over

Service to country, fear of war, and dishonor of not being accepted into military

Commitment to service in the ATG

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JONAS RAMOTH: I’m going to talk a little bit about the ATG from the eyes of a twelve, thirteen year old.

At the time Muktuk (Marston) was up here, I had two older brothers and a father who were inducted into the ATG.

And when there’s a twelve, thirteen year old who’s -- who considered himself a pretty darn good shot that didn’t get to join because he was too small. Small for my age.

But I often followed my dad when he went to those meetings.

And the guy I wanted to be who was a role model at that time was Robinson Blankenship, who was Muktuk’s right hand man in training the ATG.

I didn’t know there was another Blankenship. ‘Cause I -- I only know Rob -- or Plaigruaq (PHONETIC) and his family, Ruth and Ida.

So we usually go to those meetings and watch them.

I -- I take great pains in trying to memorize the parts of the rifle when they take it apart. And because I go to school I -- I -- I was pretty sure I could do the drills and stuff with them.

Or the moves and how they have manual -- I think they call it manual of arms with the rifle.

And -- and in summer time they would do drills over at the airport, what was Archie Ferguson’s airport, just -- straight in that area where he lands.

More like a grass field than anything else in those days.

It -- it’s -- Inupiaq being the first language in those days, they had a hard time with the -- understanding what they were supposed to do.

But it didn’t take long for them to realize why they were doing this. Why they were -- why they were necessary for them to be what they were.

When I went to school three years later, I became one of the ATG in White Mountain. When I was fifteen. I went to school there when I was fifteen.

And we had a guy from -- from the army. Again loan to Muktuk Marston, his name was Felix Bolt. I think he was from Wainwright.

And he was our instructor while we were there.

It’s -- being fifteen and be -- become -- was a proud moment for lot of us at the school.

We would be shooting right down from the school. Shooting with a trace of bullets and -- while we talk about it for a long time sometimes at the dorm.

And when it was New Year's, at home we used to shoot all kinds of rifles and while we were in school there we -- we -- we’d be showing off with those rifles and shoot with one hand with a -- with that rifle.

Which is considered to be the equivalent of thirty-ot-six (.306).

Let me touch up a little bit on the blackout during -- during those times.

In our villages, pretty small in those days, our method of lighting our houses was either a lantern, which you can carry, or -- or a -- one that’s with a globe.

Now that’s a little bit of a luxury when you -- when your family owns the one with a globe. Because it’s a little brighter than the one with the handle, with all those metals on it.

And a real luxury is that gas lantern. And it’s very bright after using those two types of lighting that you use.

And lot of times when you get caught and not doing your chores while there was daylight, you can just stick it out by the window, or put the light by the window and it will show enough glare for you to chop wood. Or saw wood.

And -- and when you go out to play football, go out from your house to go down the river, in the case in my village, you see a little bit of lights coming from each house. And it’s a -- doesn’t look like it’s a big lighting system but it works.

And when we play football, that Eskimo kind of football, we never -- we never use lights. We just play in the dark.

When the moonlight is showing then you’re -- you've had it made more than anything else.

Football, as we play it, is a very physical game. You don’t have any referee. But your ball is considered to be the referee. You can -- you can do lot of physical things with your -- with the others. Only when you have the possession of the ball. Very rough game.

And during the blackout, what little light admitted from the -- from that system was shut off quite a bit and you can’t see when you play at all.

Your light -- your eyes get accustomed to the darkness. But -- but -- it becomes very dark in that village.

People hardly use or -- or -- they don’t have a prolonged use of lights anyway when you’re -- when you stay up at the most to usually about nine or ten. And that’s staying up late in those days.

The only time the lights were used for a long time is when the -- when our mom is making our Christmas mukluks, the one’s we’re gonna use at -- at Christmas.

When they're in a hurry to make them they -- they'd be sewing for a long time and -- and things like that.

I don’t have very much to talk about, other than say that we all -- I think once they understood why the National -- what for the ATG members were told to become what they were, it was very -- they were very honored in -- in -- in doing it.

And often talk with -- talk about it with pride.

For them, it was doing something for their country and -- and very much like those -- the veterans that are older, in their seventies now, who -- who -- who take pride in -- in -- in serving for their country.

They often say, “Well, in World War II, during the war,” you know, they -- they -- they talk with pride and we -- we’re proud of them.

And most of them feared getting into it when they were drafted. I think most of them think that they were -- it’s the end of the world for them, too. Because they’re going to the war where they may never come back.

But I remember seeing my cousin, Lloyd Davis, when his father died. And he came back for the funeral.

When we saw him with -- when wearing that uniform, man, I wish I was old enough to -- to be able to wear that. It was awesome for us -- it was beautiful to see in -- in our own circle that -- that’s wearing one of those uniforms just like what we see on Life magazine in those days.

That’s about all I can think.

WALTER SAMPSON: Thank you, Jonas. Taikuu.

CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: I have a couple of questions.

One was about the blackouts. We’ve talked about that a lot, and some places say that they would black out the windows because planes might fly low and see where the people lived.

Is that why you did that here? JONAS RAMOTH: Mm-hm.

CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: Did you ever hear any planes come over looking for you?

JONAS RAMOTH: No. No. It -- it was just a precaution in those days. It never really happened that they would.

But they didn’t have radios to announce that they -- they were going to do it, but every village were very well aware that they were supposed to do that.

And everybody take it seriously, too. They were -- it was a dismal time of the year anyway.

CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: You said that you went on later to join the service . JONAS RAMOTH: Me? CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: Yeah.

JONAS RAMOTH: No, but I went to school where I became the ATG. Again, when my buddies were joining the -- the -- the -- during the '40s -- ‘48, ‘49, my buddies were -- were a little bit in trouble and they had to join or be kicked out.

And they were all going and I was just a little too young to -- to be able to join.

And in later years when I get old enough, I wasn’t fit for service. I had to go to the hospital in those days.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I understood that there was also a lot of fear that some of the first Inupiaq drafted into the ATG -- some of the nalaqmi (non-Native) leaders wondered whether or not they would be loyal to the country.

Was there a lot of -- a lot of talk about that?

JONAS RAMOTH: It’s not that they would be loyal to it, I think when we go to school we -- we -- we learn that, you know, it was definite for us who -- who -- who we belong to.

And -- and -- it says in my -- in our mind that, you know, when you’re a kid that you were growing up to -- to belong to someone.

And then -- and I think these draftees know who they were serving, but the fear comes from the fact that people die at wars.

And -- and -- and that’s what -- that’s what they were fearful about. To the extent they -- they become Christians.

Even at the time when they were leaving. Or become praying people.

But they came back. When they do, everybody was really proud of them. It was --

When you were being drafted and -- and didn’t pass -- Clarence was talking a little bit about passing.

And when you did pass, when they pass, you know, it -- it’s -- it was different feeling that they did, but when they come back and didn’t pass -- it -- it’s -- for a simple reason that they couldn’t hear or -- or a very minor thing that they wouldn’t be accepted was what make us think too bad, you know, and he wanted to join.

CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: How many years were the ATG active here? JONAS RAMOTH: Pardon?

CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: How many years were the ATG active here in this area? Five years? Three? More?

JONAS RAMOTH: All the time. I don’t remember how long they were, but Muktuk was still very active in -- in that he remind them that they would never get out of it.

That once they’re sworn in to -- to be useful or whatever they call it, they -- they were more or less stand by all their lives. CYNTHEA AINSWORTH: Wow.

JONAS RAMOTH: I think they were still doing that when -- even when the war was over.

They were committed to it, ‘cause the guy was very good in telling them that.